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Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
20th President of France
Co-Prince of Andorra

In office
27 May 1974 – 21 May 1981
Prime Minister Jacques Chirac
Raymond Barre
Preceded by Alain Poher (Acting)
Succeeded by François Mitterrand
President of the Regional Council of Auvergne

In office
21 March 1986 – 2 April 2004
Preceded by Maurice Pourchon
Succeeded by Pierre-Joël Bonté
Minister of Finance

In office
29 June 1969 – 27 May 1974
Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas
Pierre Messmer
Preceded by François-Xavier Ortoli
Succeeded by Jean-Pierre Fourcade

In office
19 January 1962 – 8 January 1966
Prime Minister Michel Debré
Georges Pompidou
Preceded by Wilfrid Baumgartner
Succeeded by Michel Debré
Personal details
Born Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing
2 February 1926(1926-02-02) (age 96)
Koblenz, Germany
Political party National Centre of Independents and Peasants (Before 1962)
Independent Republicans (1962–1977)
Republican Party (1977–1995)
Popular Party for French Democracy (1995–1997)
Liberal Democracy (1997–1998)
Union for French Democracy (1998–2002)
Other political
Union for French Democracy (1978–1998)
Spouse(s) Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes (1952–present)
Children Valérie-Anne
Alma mater Polytechnic School
National School of the Administration, Strasbourg
Religion Roman Catholicism

Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing (French pronunciation: ​[valeʁi ʒiskaʁ dɛstɛ̃]; born 2 February 1926) is a French centrist politician and a member of the Constitutional Council of France. He served as President of the French Republic from 1974 until 1981.

His tenure as President was marked by a more liberal attitude on social issues – such as divorce, contraception, and abortion – and attempts to modernize the country and the office of the presidency, notably launching such far-reaching infrastructure projects as the high-speed TGV train and the turn towards reliance on nuclear power as France's main energy source. However, his popularity suffered from the economic downturn that followed the 1973 energy crisis, marking the end of the "thirty glorious years" after World War II, combined with the official discourse that the "end of the tunnel was near". Giscard faced political opposition from both sides of the spectrum: from the newly unified left of François Mitterrand, and from a rising Jacques Chirac, who resurrected Gaullism on a right-wing opposition line. All this, as well as bad public relations, caused his unpopularity to grow at the end of his term, and he failed to secure re-election in 1981.

He is a proponent of the United States of Europe and, having limited his involvement in national politics after his defeat, he became involved with the European Union. He notably presided over the Convention on the Future of the European Union that drafted the ill-fated Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. He took part, with a prominent role, in the annually held Bilderberg private conference. He also became involved in the regional politics of Auvergne, serving as president of that region from 1986 to 2004. He was elected to the French Academy, taking the seat that his friend and former President of Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor had held. As a former President, he is a member of the Constitutional Council.

Early years

Valéry Marie René Giscard d'Estaing was born in Koblenz, Germany, during the French occupation of the Rhineland. He is the elder son of Jean Edmond Lucien Giscard d'Estaing (1894–1982), a civil servant, and his wife, Marthe Clémence Jacqueline Marie (May) Bardoux, who was a daughter of senator and academic Achille Octave Marie Jacques Bardoux and a great-granddaughter of minister of state education Agénor Bardoux, also a granddaughter of historian Georges Picot and niece of diplomat François Georges-Picot, and also a great-great-great-granddaughter of King Louis XV of France by one of his mistresses, Catherine Eléonore Bernard (1740–1769) through his great-grandfather Marthe Camille Bachasson, Count of Montalivet, and by whom Giscard d'Estaing was a multiple descendant of Charlemagne. Giscard had an older sister, Sylvie (1924–2008). He has a younger brother, Olivier, as well as two younger sisters: Isabelle (born 1935) and Marie-Laure (born 1939). Despite the addition of "d'Estaing" to the family name by his grandfather, Giscard is not descended from the extinct noble family of Vice-Admiral d'Estaing, that name being adopted by his grandfather in 1922 by reason of a distant connection to another branch of that family,[1] from which they were descended with two breaks in the male line from an illegitimate line of the Viscounts d'Estaing.

In 1948, he spent a year in Montreal where he worked as a teacher in Collège Stanislas.[2]

He studied at Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, École Gerson and Lycées Janson-de-Sailly and Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He graduated from the Ecole polytechnique and the École nationale d'administration (1949–1951) and chose to enter the prestigious Inspection des finances. He acceded to the Tax and Revenue Service, then joined the staff of Prime Minister Edgar Faure (1955–1956).

Member of National Assembly

In 1956, he was elected to Parliament as a deputy for the Puy-de-Dôme département, in the domain of his maternal family. He joined the National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP), a conservative grouping. After the proclamation of the Fifth Republic, the CNIP leader Antoine Pinay became Minister of Economy and Finance and chose him as Secretary of State for Finances from 1959 to 1962.

In government

Giscard with U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the White House, in Washington, D.C., 1962.

In 1962, while Giscard had been nominated Minister of Economy and Finance, his party broke with the Gaullists and left the majority coalition. The CNIP reproached President Charles de Gaulle with his euro-scepticism. But Giscard refused to resign and founded the Independent Republicans (RI). It was the small partner of the Gaullists in the "presidential majority".

However, in 1966, he was dismissed from the cabinet. He changed the RI in a political party, the National Federation of the Independent Republicans (FNRI), and founded the Perspectives and Realities Clubs. He did not leave the majority but became more critical. In this, he criticised the "solitary practice of the power" and summarised his position towards De Gaulle's policy by a "yes, but...". Chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Finances, he harassed his successor in the cabinet. For that reason the Gaullists refused to re-elect him in this function after the 1968 legislative election. In 1969, unlike most of FNRI’s elected officials, Giscard advocated a "no" vote in the referendum about the regions and the Senate, while De Gaulle had announced his intention to resign if the "no" won. The Gaullists accused him of being largely responsible for De Gaulle's departure.

During the 1969 presidential campaign, he supported the winning candidate Georges Pompidou and returned to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. On the French political scene, he appeared as a young brilliant politician, and a preeminent expert in economic issues. He was representative of a new generation of politicians emerging from the senior civil service, whose profile was as "technocrats".

In 1974, after the sudden death of President Pompidou, Giscard announced his candidacy for the presidency. His two main challengers were François Mitterrand for the left and Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a former Gaullist prime minister. Supported by his FNRI party, he obtained the rallying of the centrist Reforming Movement. Moreover, he benefited from the divisions in the Gaullist party. Jacques Chirac and other Gaullist personalities published the "Call of the 43" where they explained Giscard was the best candidate to prevent the election of Mitterrand. Giscard crushed Chaban-Delmas in the first round, and then on 20 May narrowly defeated Mitterrand in the second, receiving 50.7% of the vote.[3]


In 1974, Giscard was elected President of France at 48, the third youngest president in French history, after Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean Casimir-Perier. He promised "change in continuity". He made clear his desire to introduce various reforms and modernise French society, which was an important part of his presidency. He for instance reduced from 21 to 18 the age of majority and pushed for the development of the TGV high speed train network and the Minitel, a precursor of the Internet.[4] In 1975, he invited the heads of government from West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to a summit in Rambouillet, to form the Group of Six (now the G8, including Canada and Russia) major economic powers.

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing meeting with president of West Germany Walter Scheel in 1975

He pursued a controversial course in foreign policy. In 1977, in the Opération Lamantin, he ordered fighter jets to deploy in Mauritania and go to war against the Polisario guerillas fighting against Mauritanian military occupation of Western Sahara. But not even overt military backing proved sufficient to rescue the French-installed Mauritanian leader Mokhtar Ould Daddah, as he was overthrown by his own army some time later, and a peace agreement was signed with the Sahrawi resistance.

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1979 with Helmut Schmidt, Jimmy Carter and James Callaghan at Guadeloupe.

Most controversial, however, was his involvement with the Bokassa regime of the Central African Republic and with a diamond smuggling scandal involving the dictator, by which he personally profited. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was at first a friend of its ruler, Jean-Bédel Bokassa; he supplied Bokassa's regime with much financial and military backing. However, the growing unpopularity of that government led Giscard to begin distancing himself from Bokassa. In 1979 French troops helped drive Bokassa out of power and restore former president David Dacko. This action was also controversial, particularly since Dacko was Bokassa’s cousin and had appointed Bokassa as head of the military, and unrest continued in the Central African Republic, leading to Dacko being overthrown in another coup in 1981.

In a related incident, Giscard was reported by the Canard Enchaîné to have accepted diamonds as personal gifts from Bokassa – who fled to France with looted millions from the Central African Republic's treasury, but was still given asylum in France. Legally, official gifts to the President are property of the Republic of France, not the President; Giscard supporters contended that the diamonds were industrial-grade and thus had no sizeable monetary value.

In home policy, the president’s reforms worried the conservative electorate and the Gaullist party. A rivalry appeared with his prime minister Jacques Chirac, who resigned in 1976. Raymond Barre, called the "best economist in France", succeeded him. He led a policy of strictness in a context of economic crisis (Plan Barre). Unemployment grew.

Unexpectedly, the right-wing coalition won the 1978 legislative election. Nevertheless, relations with Chirac, who had founded the Rally for the Republic (RPR), became more tense. VGE reacted by founding a centre-right confederation, the Union for French Democracy (UDF).

Giscard was defeated in the 1981 presidential election by Mitterrand. At the time, Chirac ran against Giscard in the first round of runoff voting and declined to call his voters to elect Giscard, though he declared that he himself would vote for Giscard. Since then, Giscard has always attributed his defeat to Chirac, and he is widely said to loathe Chirac. Certainly, on many occasions, Giscard has criticised Chirac's policies, despite supporting Chirac's governing coalition.

Although he said he had "deep aversion against capital punishment" and in his 1974 campaign proclaimed his opposition to the death penalty,[5] he did not commute three of the death sentences that he had to decide upon during his presidency (although he did so in several other occasions), keeping France as the last country in the European Union to apply the death penalty. These executions would be the last ever in France.

After 1981 defeat

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1986

After his defeat, Giscard retired temporarily from politics. In 1984, he regained his seat in Parliament and won the presidency of the regional council of Auvergne. In this position, he tried to encourage tourism to the région, founding the "European Centre of Volcanology" and theme park Vulcania.

In 1982, along with his friend Gerald Ford, he co-founded the annual AEI World Forum.

He hoped to become prime minister of France during the first "cohabitation" (1986–88) or after the reelection of Mitterrand with the theme of "France united", but he was not chosen for this position. During the 1988 presidential campaign, he refused to choose publicly between the two right-wing candidates, his two former Prime Ministers Jacques Chirac and Raymond Barre. This attitude was interpreted as indicating that he wanted to regain the UDF leadership. Indeed, he served as President of the UDF from 1988 to 1996, but he was faced with the rise of a new generation of politicians called the "renovationmen". Most of the UDF politicians supported the candidacy of the RPR Prime minister Édouard Balladur at the 1995 presidential election, but Giscard supported his old rival Jacques Chirac, who won the election. That same year Giscard suffered a humiliating defeat when he was defeated in a bid for the mayoralty of Clermont-Ferrand.

In 2000, he made a parliamentary proposal to reduce the length of a presidential term from 7 to 5 years. President Chirac held a referendum on this issue, and the "yes" side won. He did not run for a new parliamentary term in 2002. His son Louis Giscard d'Estaing was elected in his constituency. Following his defeat in the regional elections of March 2004, he decided to leave partisan politics and to take his seat on the Constitutional Council as a former president of the Republic. Some of his actions there, such as his campaign in favour of the Treaty establishing the European Constitution, were criticized as unbecoming to a member of this council, which should embody nonpartisanship and should not appear to favour one political option over the other. Indeed, the question of the membership of former presidents in the Council was raised at this point, with some suggesting that it should be replaced by a life membership in the Senate.[6][7]

In 2003, Giscard was admitted to the Académie française, amid controversy.

He has also served on the Trilateral Commission after being president, writing papers with Henry Kissinger.

He is currently serving as:

  • President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions
  • A member of the Académie française (French Academy)
  • As a de jure member of the French Constitutional Council

European activities

Giscard has, throughout his political career, always been a proponent of greater European union. In 1978, he was for this reason the obvious target of Jacques Chirac's Call of Cochin, denouncing the "party of the foreigners".[citation needed]

From 1989 to 1995, Giscard served as a member of the European Parliament. From 1989 to 1991, he was also chairman of the Liberal and Democratic Reformist Group.[8]

From 2002 to 2003 he served as President of the Convention on the Future of Europe.[citation needed]

On 29 October 2004, the European heads of state, gathered in Rome, approved and signed the European Constitution based on a draft strongly influenced by Giscard's work at the Convention.[citation needed]

Although the Constitution was rejected by French voters in May 2005, Giscard continued to actively lobby for its passage in other European Union states. Speaking at the London School of Economics on 28 February 2006, he said: "The rejection of the Constitutional treaty by voters in France was a mistake that should be corrected."[citation needed]

From 2008 he is the Honorary President of the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture, an innovative structure composed of some of the most authoritative universities, newspapers and businesses in Europe for the selection, exchange and dissemination of the most innovative European research, to increase the movement of knowledge across borders, across sectors and to the public at large.[9]

On 27 November 2009, Giscard publicly launched the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture during its first conference, held at the European Parliament,[10] declaring: "European intelligence could be at the very root of the identity of the European people."[11] A few days before he had signed, together with the President of Atomium Culture Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini, the European Manifesto of Atomium Culture.[citation needed]

Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum

Giscard gained some notoriety in the June 2008 Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. One quote of his in particular, from an article he wrote for Le Monde[12] and published in that newspaper on 15 June 2007, that "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals we dare not present to them directly", was consistently highlighted by "No" campaigners as evidence of an alleged insidious agenda to fool the European public into accepting the text. Although the quote is accurate, it was part of a critique, taken out of context, of a suggestion made by some unnamed persons. In the next paragraph Giscard goes on to reject the idea of this course of action by saying, "This approach of 'divide and ratify' is clearly unacceptable. Perhaps it is a good exercise in presentation. But it would confirm to European citizens the notion that European construction is a procedure organised behind their backs by lawyers and diplomats."

In the following paragraphs he goes on to appeal for an "honest treaty" and "total transparency" to allow citizens to hear the debate for themselves.

Political career

President of the French Republic : 1974–1981.

Member of the Constitutional Council of France : Since 2004.

Governmental functions

Secretary of State for Finances : 1959–1962.

Minister of Finances and Economic Affairs : 1962–1966.

Minister of Economy and Finances : 1969–1974.

Minister of State, minister of Economy and Finances : March–May 1974 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1974)

Electoral mandates

European Parliament

Member of European Parliament : 1989–1993 (Reelected member of the National Assembly of France in 1993).

National Assembly of France

Member of the National Assembly of France for Puy-de-Dôme : 1956–1959 (Became minister in 1959) / Reelected in 1962, but he stays minister / 1967–1969 (Became minister in 1969) / Reelected in 1973, but he stays minister / 1984–1989 (Became member of European Parliament in 1989) / 1993–2002. Elected in 1956, reelected in 1958, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1973.

Regional Council

President of the Regional Council of region : 1986–2004. Reelected in 1992, 1998.

Regional councillor of region : 1986–2004. Reelected in 1992, 1998.

General Council

General councillor of Puy-de-Dôme : 1958–1974 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1974) / 1982–1988 (Resignation). Reelected in 1964, 1970, 1982.

Municipal Council

Mayor of Chamalières : 1967–1974 (Resignation, Became President of the French Republic in 1974). Reelected in 1971.

Municipal councillor of Chamalières : 1967–1977. Reelected in 1971.

Political functions

President of the National Federation of the Independent Republicans (Independent Republicans) : 1966–1974 (Became President of the French Republic in 1974).

President of the Union for French Democracy : 1988–1996.

Personal life

Giscard's name is often shortened to "VGE" by the French media. A less flattering nickname is l'Ex (the Ex), used mostly by the weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné. He was the only surviving ex-president since he left office until the end of Jacques Chirac's term on 16 May 2007, with the exception of a brief period between François Mitterrand's retirement in 1995 and death in early 1996.

On 17 December 1952, Giscard married his cousin Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes, a daughter of Count François Sauvage de Brantes, who died in a concentration camp in 1944, and his wife, the former Princess Aymone de Faucigny-Lucinge. Their children are: Valérie-Anne, Henri (Edmond Marie Valéry), Louis (Joachim Marie François) and Jacinte (Marguerite Marie). Louis was a French conservative Representative; Henri is the President of the tourism company Club Méditerranée.

Giscard's private life was the source of many rumors at both national and international level. His family did not live in the presidential palace with him and his nocturnal escapades were reported by publications such as Le Monde, The Economist and the International Herald Tribune. In 1974, Le Monde reported that he used to leave a sealed letter stating his whereabouts in case of emergency.[13]

In 2003 he received the Charlemagne Award of the German city of Aachen. He is also a Knight of Malta.

He is an uncle of artist Aurore Giscard d'Estaing, who was formerly married to American actor Timothy Hutton.

He travels the world giving speeches on European union. During a visit to Ireland, d'Estaing was made an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin.

In 2005 he and his brother bought the castle of Estaing, a famous place in the French district of Aveyron and formerly a possession of the above mentioned admiral d'Estaing who was beheaded in 1794. The castle is not used as a residence but it has symbolic value. The two brothers explained that the purchase, supported by the local municipality, is an act of patronage. However, a number of major newspapers in several countries questioned their motives and some hinted at self-appointed nobility and a usurped historical identity.[14]

Giscard wrote his second romantic novel, published on 1 October 2009 in France, entitled The Princess and The President. It tells the story of a French head of state having a romantic liaison with a character called Patricia, Princess of Cardiff. This fuelled rumours that the piece of fiction was based on a real-life liaison between Giscard and Diana, Princess of Wales.[15] He later stressed that the story was entirely made up and no such affair had happened.[16]


National Honours

Foreign Honours

As Minister of Finance

Arms of V.G.E. as Knight of the Order of the Seraphim

As President of France

  •  Denmark : Knight of the Order of the Elephant (12 October 1978)[19][20]
  •  Portugal : Grand Collar of the Order of Saint James of the Sword (14 October 1975)[21]
  •  Portugal : Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry (21 October 1978)[21]
  •  Spain : Knight of the Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (1976)
  •  Sweden : Knight of the Order of the Seraphim (6 June 1980)[22]

Other Honours


President Giscard d'Estaing received from Queen Margrethe II of Denmark a coat of arms linked to the reception of the Order of the Elephant, which was reused by King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden (Photo), for his reception in the Order of the Seraphim.[22]


  1. See French Wikipedia
  2. Mon tour de jardin, Robert Prévost, p. 96, Septentrion 2002
  3. Lewis, Flora (20 May 1974). "France Elects Giscard President For 7 Years After A Close Contest; Left Turned Back". Retrieved 22 December 2020. 
  4. History of the Minitel
  6. La Chiraquie veut protéger son chef quand il quittera l'Elysée, Libération, 14 January 2005
  7. See also the constitutional amendment proposals by senator Patrice Gélard [1][2]
  9. [3][dead link]
  10. "The Honorary President of Atomium Culture Valéry Giscard d'Estaing speaks at the public launch and first conference, Atomium Culture". Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  11. Von Joachim Müller-Jung (27 November 2009). "Atomium Culture: Bienenstock der Intelligenz – Atomium Culture – Wissen". Faz.Net. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  13. "Hemeroteca La Vanguardia, November 30th 1974 (Spanish)". 
  14. Le Monde 24 December 04, AFP Toulouse 23 December 04, Le Figaro 22 January 05, Neue Zürcher Zeitung 15 February 05, The Sunday Times 16 January 05
  15. "The Connexion – The Newspaper for English-Speakers in France". 21 September 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  16. "The Connexion – The Newspaper for English-Speakers in France". 24 September 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Académie française, Valéry GISCARD d’ESTAING
  18. Italian Presidency Website, GISCARD D'ESTAING S.E. Valery, "Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana", when Minister of Economy and Finance
  19., Ordensdetaljer, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Hans Excellence, fhv. præsident for Republikken Frankrig
  20. Coat of arms in the chapel of Frederiksborg Castle
  21. 21.0 21.1 Portuguese Presidency Website, Orders search form : type "ESTAING Valéry Giscard" in "nome", then click "Pesquisar"
  22. 22.0 22.1 Heraldry of the Order of the Seraphim

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Wilfrid Baumgartner
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Michel Debré
Preceded by
François-Xavier Ortoli
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Jean-Pierre Fourcade
Preceded by
Alain Poher
President of France
Succeeded by
François Mitterrand
Party political offices
New political party Leader of the Independent Republicans
Succeeded by
Michel Poniatowski
Union for French Democracy nominee for President of France
1974, 1981
Succeeded by
Raymond Barre
Preceded by
Jean Lecanuet
Leader of the Union for French Democracy
Succeeded by
François Léotard
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Alain Poher
Co-Prince of Andorra
Served alongside: Joan Martí i Alanis
Succeeded by
François Mitterrand
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Alain Poher
Honorary Canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran
Succeeded by
François Mitterrand
Diplomatic posts
New office Chairperson of the Group of 6
Succeeded by
Gerald Ford
Academic offices
Preceded by
Aleksander Kwaśniewski
Speaker of the College of Europe Opening Ceremony
Succeeded by
Joschka Fischer
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Bernard Accoyer
as President of the National Assembly
Order of Precedence of France
as Former President
Succeeded by
Jacques Chirac
as Former President

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